30 August 2016

Lizabeth Scott: Queen of Noir

Recently at SleuthSayers I did a post ( http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2016/07/a-noir-summer.html ) suggesting some lesser-known movies for a noir summer. Two of those movies, Too Late for Tears and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers starred Emma Matzo… better known as smoky-voiced Lizabeth Scott. Doing that post made me think I should do a post on Scott. And even though she only has about 30 film and TV credits, she is one of the Queens of noir. 

Her noir canon consists mainly of these movies:
  • Dead Reckoning
  • Pitfall
  • Too Late for Tears
  • The Racket
  • I Walk Alone
  • Dark City
  • Two of a Kind
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Mostly they’re pretty good and mostly they’re actually noir.  My faves are:

Dead Reckoning: one of my favorite noirs. In fact, several of her noirs fall on my fave list. Along with Dead Reckoning are Pitfall, Too Late for Tears, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. All good. Some people find Dead Reckoning a rather pedestrian noir, but for me it’s got everything a noir needs. Humphrey Bogart and his buddy are soldiers heading to DC so his buddy can be awarded the Medal of Honor. For some reason, the buddy doesn’t want to be the center of attention and takes a powder, leaving Bogart to try to figure out what happened. He ends up in Gulf City. Enter femme fatale Coral Chandler (Scott): noir ensues.

Pitfall: Dick Powell continues his escape from juvenile leads (actually he’s long away by now) as an insurance exec and family man married to Jane Wyatt (Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best, so you know she’s a wholesome wife and mom, even though the movie came first). Checking out a case and working with slimy P.I. Raymond Burr, Powell meets femme fatale Scott. Noir ensues.

Too Late for Tears: As I’ve said, this is one of my favorite noirs, period. Scott’s so evil in this one that even Dan Duryea, who’s pretty good at being rotten himself, can’t take her. A husband (Arthur Kennedy) and wife (Scott) are driving their convertible when someone in another car throws a suitcase full of cash into their car. She wants to keep it, he not so much. Noir ensues.

Good, low budget noir. I like this one a lot. Some nice LA locations. It was written by Roy Huggins, who later created The Rockford Files and The Fugitive (TV series), though David Goodis might dispute that. And it’s just recently come out in a new, fancy-dancy restored Blu-ray/DVD edition.

Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The: Scott’s first noir and only her second movie. In this one she’s not the femme fatale, but she’s getting her noir footing down. Van Heflin winds up in his hometown, now run by his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Stanwyck, and her D.A. husband (Kirk Douglas in his first movie). Scott and Heflin have a thing for each other, but Stanwyck has other ideas. You know what happens next: noir ensues.

I Walk Alone: Frankie (Burt Lancaster) gets out of prison, expecting to go back to his old life of crime and high times with Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey. But Kirk has other plans for his old pal. Things just ain’t the same for Frankie after fourteen years in prison, even if he did take the rap for Kirk. Enter Kay Lawrence (Scott) who’s been told by Douglas to find out what it is Frankie really wants. Guess what: noir ensues.

Becoming a Queen of Noir is a long way from Scott’s seminary upbringing in Scranton, PA. And her life wasn’t without controversy. She had an on again off again relationship with her boss and mentor Hal Wallis, one of the major producers of all time. It was rumored in a 1954 Confidential Magazine article that she was a lesbian and that her name was found in the Rolodex of a notorious Los Angeles madam. Some claim her career was ended by the scandal. 

According to the New York Times: “Ms. Scott sued for $2.5 million, contending that the magazine had portrayed her in a “vicious, slanderous and indecent” manner. The outcome was never made public, but the suit, filed in 1955, was believed to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The scandal, however, was nearly ruinous.” You can find the full article here:   http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/movies/lizabeth-scott-film-noir-siren-dies-at-92.html?_r=0

I don’t think it was ever really proven one way or another, and it certainly doesn’t matter to us today, but at that time it was a big deal and probably one of the reasons her career slowed down. Whatever the truth was, she was an independent woman who didn’t give in to the pressures to put on an act or be something that Hollywood wanted her to be. 

She never married and lived alone in the Hollywood Hills until her death on January 31, 2015 at the age of 92. Lizabeth Scott left a legacy of several great noir films and is definitely one of the Queens of Noir.


Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released “St. Louis Noir.”



  1. Like the posters and the film stills too!

  2. Thanks, Janice. They are kinda cool, aren't they?

  3. Great post here, and adding to my list of films to see. (Still haven't gotten to Too Late for Tears but I intend to.) And she was from Scranton! That's near where Tara grew up. I'll need to tell her.

  4. Thanks, Art. I'd be curious to see what you think of TLfT. And maybe Tara and Scott tred the same cobblestone paths, albeit at different times ;)

  5. I always did like Lizbeth Scott. (For one thing, when I was a kid, she was about the only actress I saw with a voice as low as mine.) I love "Dead Reckoning" - have to see it again soon!

  6. Whether she played the innocent victim or the bad to the bone dame, Scott always delivered. Can't think of a contemporary actress who can fill her shoes. No depth in Hollywood anymore.

  7. I can't say I'm familiar with these movies (I'm not a huge noir fan), but they sound intriguing--I'll have to watch for them. Is there one you'd especially recommend as an introduction to Scott's work?

  8. Noir ensues… love that line. It would make a great title for an article, novel, movie…

  9. Eve, I’m with you on Dead Reckoning. And if you haven’t seen it in a while it’ll be a treat.

  10. Gayle, she definitely had a great quality, especially for noir.

  11. B.K., if I had to recommend one I would say Dead Reckoning. As much as I like Too Late for Tears, I think D.R. might be a better intro. But maybe someone else has other ideas.

  12. Leigh, I think you’re right – Noir Ensues: my next novel :)

  13. Keeping this list, thanks so much for sharing. Always appreciate (and enjoy) your recommendations...

  14. Thanks, Madeline. Hope you'll enjoy them. If you like noir there's some pretty good ones.

  15. Lizabth Scott had a film presence, presence, never forgettable..always abit or much noir in her performances..
    Dead Reackong is a a great intro for those, somehow, unfamiliar with her work..

  16. Always find your blog stories energizing, Paul D. Marks. Today, I located PITFALL 1948 at Amazon, FREE with Prime. Thanks.

    Charlotte M. Liebel

  17. She looks (looked) a lot like Lauren Bacall-especially the hair.


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